How to Finish 1/3 : Inspiration

For me, most projects have three distinct phases; the initial inspiration, the development phase, and finishing/delivery. So rant#1 is about the beginning, the inspiration.


“in my beginning is my end,
in my end is my beginning”
T S Eliot

So what is it you are making? And what is it about? Screenwriters spend months and years working on a script, but equally important is the one sentence byline that captures the essence of the story. So what is at the core of your art? The most immediate answer is YOU: your art is essentially about how YOU filter the world and all of its chaos into something of significance & meaning, no matter how abstract or literal the outcome may be.
Any experience in life might suggest an idea, as wikipedia suggests: Creativity has been attributed variously to divine intervention, cognitive processes, the social environment, personality traits, and chance (“accident”, “serendipity”). Quoting Stravinsky “An accident is perhaps the only thing that really inspires us” but no matter the initial source, it is the resonance felt by you that matters – it is about evoking a feeling, first in yourself & then in others.
When inspiration arrives its best not to ignore or delay it, which explains why I am not an early morning person – if I get in the zone in the evening (my best time for such things) I prefer to stay there until I am exhausted. Knowing what are your best times of the day is valuable but so also is observing what it takes to get yourself mentally into a creative frame of mind. In an interview from this book, Laurie Anderson eloquently nails the concept: “Its not like pushing a button and then writing a song. But yes, there is a state of mind that means being open to anything and trying to be extremely vulnerable to things. I try to know nothing, to be simple, curious and open. And I try not to be clever. That’s the state of mind. And you can’t always get into that. If you are feeling frazzled or preoccupied you won’t make it. So I don’t try. If I know that I’m feeling like that, I’ll scrub the floor instead.”



Where are you when inspiration comes? In my case it is often when I am in the studio, but sometimes the most profound ideas occur when I am nowhere near it, in which case it is CRUCIAL to be able to record the idea in some way, even if its just writing in a notebook or as I occasionally do, txt/SMS myself… and the latter works! More than a few times I have totally forgotten about an idea & days later am reading a text message on my phone & discover what I noted & forgot…
One thing I have learned to appreciate, and it is well summed up in this Not-To-Do list, is the issue of distractions… Random emails or iChat alerts can impact negatively on progress when in the development phase, but in the inspiration phase they can be fatal! I similarly prefer to turn off the phones when in creation mode – voice mail was made for a reason!


Its easy to get stuck just having the fun of this first phase. And that equates to collecting lots of projects which have been started, but not developed & therefore have no means of being completed. Accordingly Rant #2 is going to be about development strategies… But it is equally important to identify whether a new project is a core part of your art or is it actually just for fun? I often enjoy loading up a few beats & jamming on double bass, but that is purely for fun/instant gratification and I do it knowing I have no intention of developing it further. This article, Don’t Start What You Can’t Finish has some good points to make about committing to finishing a project, at the beginning as well as during a project, since at the outset you cant always predict how strong an idea is…
But the great, weird, confusing factor in any of these considerations is that there are no rules, only hypotheses. Having no idea about the worth and chances of completion of a new project may well prove to be best path; retaining an open mind, to work quickly, and to simply be inspired. At this stage, it is a case of creating opportunities for inspiration to strike.

Relatedly one issue I have had to come to terms with is that of working in the same place that I seek inspiration for my personal projects. The studio that I spend my daylight hours working on film sound design is the same space in which, after hours, I attempt to switch modes and become musically creative. And while the former shares common ground with the latter, the reverse is only so true in that it also brings with it the baggage of expectation, every changing schedules & budgets and processes which are at times more technical than creative. When I was younger & more naive I presumed I could simply stop, have dinner & carry on in the same space, using much of the same equipment, with a totally different frame of mind.



The other aspect of work vs personal projects I have found over the years is this: during the sound editorial period when I am working on a film I find my psyche has the free space to continue to engage with my own personal projects, but once we start mixing (& maybe the week or so before) I find I have to become completely obsessed with the film, I no longer have room for any other creative outlet other than the films soundtrack. Depending on the scale of the film this period lasts from five to eight weeks and throughout this period although I simply cannot work on my own projects, the desire to work on them escalates, rapidly. Only after the end of the mix, when every feasible creative avenue has been explored to the directors satisfaction, do I then feel I can again focus on my own art. And THAT is a seriously productive time for me. On a smaller scale, I guess its why some people reccomend NOT doing whatever it is you most enjoy for one day a week (a music-free day) purely because of the desire it creates, consciously & sub-consciously.

Lastly, some inspiring quotes that I love:

‘Do not go where the path may lead,
go instead where there is no path
and leave a trail’
Waldo Emerson

‘Life isn’t about finding yourself,
life is about creating yourself’
George Bernard Shaw

‘I am in the present. I cannot know what tomorrow will bring forth.
I can only know what the truth is for me today.
That is what I am called upon to serve,
and I serve it in all lucidity’
Igor Stravinsky

‘Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old;
seek what they sought’
Basho

‘The bird of paradise lights only upon the hand that does not grasp’
John Berry

‘All know that the drop merges into the ocean,
but few know that the ocean merges into the drop’
Kabir

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’
Albert Einstein

UPDATE: if this was useful/relevant have a look at part 2 and part 3

6 Responses to How to Finish 1/3 : Inspiration

  1. Pingback: the music of sound » How to Finish 3/3 – Completion

  2. Pingback: the music of sound » How to Finish 2/3 : Development

  3. Pingback: Music of Sound » How to Finish

  4. Pingback: How to Finish!d | The Perspective Collective

  5. bryan says:

    Awesome set of articles, I love that Stravinsky quote

  6. Pingback: Creative process via books | Music of Sound

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